Braves: A closer look at infielder Cam Shepherd

axa20170318005 georgia at lsu

Keeping with the trend recently, the Braves signed yet another promising college player on Wednesday — 22-year-old shortstop Cam Shepherd (ranked no. 298 via Baseball America’s 2020 top-500 list). 

The Braves headed into Wednesday night with six undrafted free agent signings, moving them ahead of the Mets for the second-most thus far in the NL East (the Phillies lead the division, having already landed eight UDFAs).


Shepherd’s background

Born in Duluth, Ga., Shepherd played prep baseball at nearby Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee — a school notable for producing quite a bit of NFL talent over the last decade. There, Shepherd graduated as yet another noteworthy athlete and was drafted in the 29th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Red Sox, but instead opted to take his talent down the road to the University of Georgia. 

As a freshman, Shepherd instantly became a key contributor for the Bulldogs, playing in 57 games, hitting .307 with five home runs and 16 doubles while also flashing an excellent glove on defense. That ’17 campaign would go down as Shepherd’s best full-season offensively, but the glove is what got him redrafted two years later.

Despite ending the year with the most strikeouts of his career — including a middling .248 AVG in 59 games — Shepherd earned SEC All-Defensive team honors and a Gold Glove award in 2019, thanks to a .987 fielding percentage and a 30-game stretch versus SEC opponents without a single error (achieved in the SEC for the first time since 2008). Shepherd’s .720 OPS in 2019 was his worst mark yet, but his talent at shortstop was unmatched. In the 2019 MLB Draft, the Rays selected Shepherd in the 20th round, but he again chose UGA, hoping to put up a big senior season and improve his draft stock.

That senior year in 2020 was, of course, cut short, but Shepherd seemed to make some real strides at the plate. In just 18 games — or roughly a third of a full season — he hit four home runs, having topped out at eight homers in 63 games the season prior. Shepherd was getting on base at a career clip as well (.372 OBP), and when the season was suspended, his .865 OPS was also a career-best. Granted, Shepherd’s 71 at-bats in 2020 isn’t enough of a sample size to conclude that he now wields a plus-bat, but it at least offers a sliver of hope that he can one day become more of a complete player as a pro — certainly a justifiable risk at just $20,000. 


Shepherd’s scouting report 

Despite swinging a better bat this season, Shepherd’s stock hasn’t trended as well as he has gotten older. Coming out of high school, the 6’1″, 181 lb., shortstop ranked no. 85 on Baseball America’s top-100 list before falling to no. 97 during his junior year in 2019. Heading into the most-recent draft, Shepherd’s rank sat just inside BA’s top-300 (no. 298).

Set to turn 23-years-old in September, he just hasn’t flashed a ton of tools, save for his excellent arm and quick release on defense. However, there’s reason to believe that his time at Georgia could pay off nicely if 2020 is any indication of his play going forward. 

For one, Shepherd’s plate-discipline improved tremendously from his freshman to sophomore season, as he tripled his number of walks and was on pace for even more of a surge this season (he already had 11 free passes in 71 AB). That sort of improvement suggests Shepherd’s approach has come along nicely as a college player, which shouldn’t go overlooked given he has primarily faced SEC pitching. 

Secondly, Shepherd’s power surge at the plate shouldn’t be written off due to a hot start. It’s not as if he was hitting .400 through those first 18 games in 2020. The kid was hitting .268 and already had half as many homers as he had in his previous full-season, suggesting that maybe he has just gotten better at squaring up pitches throughout his time at UGA. I mean, Shepherd’s homer totals were trending up: five in 2017, five in 2018, eight in 2019, and on pace for around 12-15 in a standard 2020.

Regardless, it’s a perfectly reasonable signing for the Braves. The best-case scenario is that Shepherd develops a ton on offense as a pro and morphs into a big-league caliber middle-infielder that wins numerous Gold Gloves. The worst-case is that he’s already maxed out in terms of potential at the plate and winds up a utility-type player. Either way, the Braves almost can’t go wrong with these $20K deals, and so far, the organization has done a great job finding players coming off notable seasons. Some of these pick-ups are bound to pay off!

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